Let me just start off by stating that I loathe this book. I hate this book so so much. Similarly to Educated by Tara Westover, I am, I am, I am, is one of the worst memoirs I have ever read and certainly one of the most over-hyped.
Evidently, Maggie O’Farrell is some sort of bestselling British author, but I was unaware of this as I have never read any of her fiction books. I later learned of this while reading other readers’ reviews on Goodreads, and I have to say I wasn’t surprised at all. Firstly, the book is beautifully written. Similarly to the last book I read, Every Heart a Doorway, the writing is almost lyrical, and I enjoyed it. Secondly, the writing is overly dramatized.
Dramatization and 17 Brushes with Death
Let’s talk about the drama and the concept of 17 brushes with death. The author did not have 17 brushes with death. It’s a complete misnomer. Many of her so-called brushes with death were either basic things that many of us have experienced or were scary things that happened but didn’t actually bring her to the brink of death. For example, one of the chapters is about how she almost got hit by a car but didn’t. I would call that scary, but certainly not a brush with death. If she had been hit by the car, hospitalized, and survived I would then classify that as a brush with death. In another example she volunteers to have a performer throw knives around her. She does not realize that the performer intends to throw the knives while wearing a blindfold. So does she get stabbed, or even nicked? No! I do not consider having knives thrown at you a brush with death. Now if the performer had missed (god forbid) that would be a brush with death.In general, I don’t consider anything that doesn’t involve at least an overnight hospitalization or an ambulance run to be a brush with death.
Also, I’m not usually one to blame the victim, but the author often brings on dangerous situations herself. She openly admits throughout the book that she is a risk taker and daredevil and does not often listen to conventional wisdom. I only have so much sympathy for this type of recklessness. I found her stories about her illness easier to sympathize with.
General Structure and Format
Another problem I had with this book was the order of the chapters. I would have found the book more enjoyable and easier to read if it went in chronological order. Instead, the book jumps all over the place, often going backward in time. I did not like this format at all. Plus, there are parts of the book where the author references her disease and how it affected her, but she doesn’t actually explain how she contracted the disease (or what it is) until towards the end of the book.
Overall, I really disliked the vast majority of the book. The saving grace was a few genuinely interesting and scary stories (the encounter with the man on the mountain, contracting a parasite abroad, encephalitis, and her daughter’s battle with anaphylaxis). Because I enjoyed these stories I gave the book 2 stars rather than 1.